I've been thinking a lot about slander lately. A particular issue is behind this (concerning a friend), but it has raised questions for me.
Leaving aside legal aspects of libel and slander, let's consider the ethics of making allegations publicly or formally against someone.
Here is the case-type: a person makes a report or accusation to a professional body alleging that another person is unfit for a job (ministry) because the accuser believes that there has been a moral offence sufficient under regulations to cause impediment to service. The accuser is not a direct witness but believes what others have said. The matter is investigated by the proper body and is found to be without evidence, no finding being recorded against the accused. The witnesses do not support the accusation. Should not the accuser now officially withdraw the allegation? If he does not or is not required to do so, then surely the Biblical sin of slander has been committed (Prov. 11:9; Lev. 19:16;Titus 3:2).
The accuser may still personally believe in the truth of the accusation, despite the contrary evidence, but is he not duty-bound as a Christan to withdraw it? And surely the professional tribunal too is under an obligation to the accused to call on the accuser to do so?
Failure to hold people accountable for their words leaves relationships broken and slurs remaining. In this scenario, the innocent person has been investigated but the person bringing the accusation has not been required to be accountable and to acknowledge that his accusation was false according to evidence.
It is often said that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are "the Abrahamic religions'. Now Abraham is in the tradition of the three religions, but there is a crucial difference between the Jewish and Christianity understanding of Abraham and the way Abraham features in Islamic religion. I'm not referring to differences in the stories. Surely the common thread of Hebrew and Christian understanding of Abraham is the covenant (Ge. 12-15 and following) - God entered into a covenant with Abraham, a two-way commitment of promise and calling, reaffirmed at Sinai and fulfilled in a new way in the New Covenant in Christ. So Old Testament and New Testament faith is covenantal. My understanding is that Allah's relationship with humans in Islamic religion is not understood to be covenantal - ie, reciprocal, with God making promises that He must keep and well as commitments upon people. I may be wrong here - but can a faith that is not covenantal in its essence really claim to be Abrahamic? Surely at the heart of the Abraham tradition is the covenant.
It has been quite a week here in Brisbane as the whole city has been affected in different ways by the huge flooding of the river. As the water started to abate, a wonderful thing happened: there was a spontaneous movement of helpers all over the city, coming to help strangers and friends clean the mud from their homes.
The extent of this response caught the City Council by surprise, but they soon responded by directing people to assembly points and provided buses to take them to the areas - avoiding traffic problems and uneven spread of helpers.
This has been a striking case of a movement that is followed by an ordering or structuring to assist it. In the church we sometimes try to make things happen by organising, when there is no movement or spirit inspiring it. The need and the heart provided the movement of generosity and concern. This is what the Spirit of God does, and our task is to find ways of working with the life that flows.